Introduction to Fishing Sinkers

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Split shots are one of the most well-known and frequently used sinkers.

Sinkers and weights are some of the most important pieces of terminal tackle in fishing. "What exactly is the difference between a fishing sinker and a weight?" you ask. One reply is that these two terms are used interchangeably in the angling community. Another response, and a common trend, is to refer to sinkers as tackle associated with live-bait fishing, and weights as tackle used with artificial lures, but of course these are not hard-and-fast rules. For the sake of this buyer's guide, and the upcoming "weights" guide I'll be using this distinction. 

Fishing Sinker Materials

The majority of sinkers (and weights for that matter) are formed by pouring hot, liquid metal into a mold. The metal cools and the tackle takes the form of the mold's design. For the longest time sinkers were made from lead and although lead is still used today, other metals are replacing it. The main reason is that lead can be toxic. In some fishing areas lead is banned and anglers must use other sinkers, made from non-toxic materials. Some lead alternatives are: brass, tungsten, steel, and bismuth. Anglers should always be careful when using lead sinkers and never leave lead products in the environment.

Split Shot Sinkers

Split shots are one of the most well-known and frequently used sinkers. They come in sizes from that of a BB to larger ones about the size of a raisin. They feature a groove that runs the full length of the sinker. This opening holds the line once the sinker is pinched in place. Some split shots feature small handles on the opposite side of the opening, allowing them to be removed and reused. A clam shot is a variation of a split shot. It maintains a groove for holding line and is an oval shape, making it more snag resistant. 

Split shots are often used with live-bait offerings. Adding a split shot above a hook with a worm suspended below a bobber has been combination that has caught thousands of fish and introduced just as many young anglers to fishing. Yet split shots are also not used in sophisticated ways. Tapering split shot weight below a float to control the speed of a bait's drift down a stream is a mandatory skill of successful float fisherman. 

Rubber Core Fishing Sinkers

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The fishing line is placed in the sinker's groove, and then the tabs are twisted in opposite directions.

Like a split shot, rubber grip sinkers feature grooves in their center to hold line. These oval, or football shaped, sinkers have a rubber core that has two tabs (also called ears) on each end of the sinker. The line is placed in the sinker's groove, and then the tabs are twisted in opposite directions, wrapping the line around the rubber core. When the tabs are twisted in reverse, the line is released. 

These sinkers can quickly be added or removed and do not nick the line. They come in a range of sizes and weights. Some common applications include: using a small 1/8 ounce version for live bait offerings, or adding a large sinker when trolling long-lines to help baits run at greater depths. These sinkers have a range of applications and can be used in several fishing situations. 

Bell Fishing Sinkers

Bell (also called bass casting) sinkers resemble a tear-drop or bell shape with a brass loop or a lead eye at their tapered top. Line can be fed through or tied directly to the eye. The eye is often made of brass, but plastic models are available and some feature snaps, allowing anglers to clip-on or remove sinkers from the line without retying.

These sinkers cast well in the wind, making them a favorite for shore anglers. The rounded profile of the sinkers also reduces its chance of snagging. For boat anglers, bell sinkers are often used on a three-way rig. This rig is designed to get baits deep without needing any extra equipment, like downriggers. The rig consists of a three-way swivel with one eye for the main line. The next loop holds a drop line with a bell sinker at its end. Finally, the last loop holds a leader and a lure or a live bait rig. The rig is effective when bounced along the bottom or lowered to a desired depth and trolled in open water.

Pyramid Sinker

This sinker also has a line eye which sits at its base, giving it an inverted pyramid profile when tied. These sinkers are often used in fast currents. Their streamline profile causes them to sink quickly, and their flat edges prevent them from being rolled along bottom in fast currents. When used in water bodies with sand- or mud-floors, the sinker will bury itself into the soft bottom. These two traits make it a staple piece of tackle for striper bass and surf fishing.

Bank or Reef Sinkers

These sinkers are like pyramid and egg sinkers in their usage on rigs, yet the sinker does not feature a brass loop to hold line, rather the sinker's top usually has a lead-molded eye. These tapered, egg-shaped sinkers feature hexagon sides instead of a smooth round surface. The flat sides of the sinker help prevent it from rolling in current and the tapered shape helps prevent it from snagging in rocks.

Walking Sinker

These sinkers are the bread and butter of many live-bait, walleye fisherman. They resemble a rectangle with rounded, outside edges. The top features an eye for the line. The sinker's bottom is slightly wider and larger in size than the top, holding more weight. The bottom is also slightly rounded and bent upwards. This weight distribution positions the sinker with its round edge on bottom, so it will easily glide over rocks, greatly reducing its changes of snagging on the bottom. The semi-flat design also prevents it from rolling along bottom in fast currents.

These sinkers are often used to drag live bait rigs along the bottom, and are sometimes called a live bait rig. To tie the rig, first thread the sinker on the line with the bottom bend pointing to the line's tag end. Next select a swivel large enough so it will not pass through the sinker's eye. Tie one end to your main line to the swivel. Then, you can add anything from a floating jig head, a plain hook, or a worm harness to complete the rig. 

This rig is not only snag-resistant, but it also allows line to slide through its eye when a fish picks up the bait. This latter feature prevents a fish from feeling weight. Yet, when an angler keeps a tight line on the rig, the swivel will stop at the sinker's opening, allowing the leader's length to remain consistent and in the strike zone.

Egg Shaped Fishing Sinkers

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The egg sinker is still a favorite among catfish anglers.

Before the walking sinker was born, the egg sinker was used in its place for live bait presentations and is still a favorite among catfish anglers. The egg-shape makes these sinkers fairly snag resistant and able to roll along the bottom. These sinkers slip on the line, which is threaded through a hole that runs lengthwise though the sinkers. The sinker can be used with a rig (like the walking sinker described above) and some anglers hold the sinkers in place using a split shot instead of a swivel.

Cone Sinkers and Bullet Shots

Cone (also called bullet) sinkers follow the same premise as egg sinkers in that they are threaded onto the line, with the narrow point facing towards the rod. The cone-shape of these sinkers makes them ideal for gliding through weeds. These sliding sinkers can be used on a live bait rig to replace a walking sinker when used in weedy areas. A weedless hook will also greatly enhance the effectiveness of this weed-rig.

The above overview is just a small sampling of the more common sinkers available to anglers. Looking at sinkers, one sees that many are variations on some common themes. Sinkers come in models that either slide or stay fixed to fishing line, allowing you to customize the rig you are tying. Some come in rounded or tapered designs to resist snags and slip through weeds and wood, while others feature flat edges to dig into soft bottoms or stay in place in fast currents. No matter what kind of fishing you're doing, there's a sinker to suit your needs.